Sunday, February 12, 2017

From the Archives: The Story of President Carter's Moment of Truth

by Nomad

Carter' SpeechA post from the archives looks at back at a president's speech and the turning point of a nation.


Back in February 2012, I wrote the post "Two Roads Diverged: Jimmy Carter’s Speech - July 15, 1979."

The post dealt with a moment when a president spoke honestly and directly to the American people. Like Cassandra of the day, President Carter urged the public to face facts. It was time to change course.

But just as important was the public reaction. When given this blunt assessment of the existential challenge facing the United States, how would Americans respond?

Even though few Americans remember it today, the Carter speech was a unique dialogue with the nation. The president hadn't come to talk about statistics or to rally the nation. Nor had he prepared to discuss some social program. Instead, the soft-spoken man from Georgia had come to be absolutely frank about where the nation was headed.
America, he said, was at a turning point in history, and it was time to choose between two paths.

All of the existential doubts about the American Dream, all of the rejection of materialism (which had once been the hallmark of the hippie movement) had now reached the executive office.

On that mid-July evening, President Carter openly expressed what many Americans had been thinking.
Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
He warned that the nation was heading down a path that would be a certain route to failure. That path was based, he said, on "a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others."

He also addressed the gap between Washington and the people which, he said, had never been so wide. Citizens were looking for honest answers, "not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual."

If voters were disappointed and angry, they had every right to be.
What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends. 
Carter warned that sooner or later this path would become a dead end and the country would regret not changing course when it had the chance. 

The president offered his own suggestions.
First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.
The only question was whether we were ready for this challenge. Were we as a nation ready to face the truth, head-on, honestly and courageously?
*   *   *
Many of my readers will recall that speech and their own reactions to Carter's speech.  If the details are a bit vague, I invite you to go back to the original post.

In any event, given the dead end we have come to in this election, I think it is worth remembering Carter's warning back in the summer of 1979.


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